Week 5 & 6 of Van Life

New Mexico mountains are here to stay. 

It’s currently been two weeks since I last wrote. I apologize for I am not good at keeping a schedule — especially on this journey. I can’t tell if it’s Monday or Friday and it doesn’t seem to matter. Every day is an opportunity for a hiking day!
So much has happened. We started our travels off in Cloudcroft, NM. 

The main reason I haven’t written in so long is because we have been off grid for the most part (minus making coffee using our van’s battery — pretty sure that’s not off grid). We don’t have electricity, though batteries and a fire produce our light. There isn’t a refrigerator or cooler in our van and we hadn’t had cell reception for quite some time. Yet somehow we still managed to survive. But that’s the thing…
The more we go off grid — the more we like it. We just spent $300 on hiking gear these past two weeks so we can start backpacking! Both The Beard and I’s current obsession. We seem to be having a lot of obsessions these days, or maybe it’s just me. 

We spent two days in Cibola National Forest before heading south. There are plenty of hiking trails but you really have to look for them…and apparently we need our eyes checked because we had a hard time finding any of them. However, a trip to the Ranger’s Station is always beneficial. Though we didn’t hike the two days we spent here, unless walking dirt roads count — hardly hiking, I think that’s just called walking. Anyways, this little place outside Socorro, NM was beautiful. There were the Magdalena Mountains bursting with life. And I know that because of two reasons — first, I saw the trees, scrubs, and water running up and down the forest like an eternal expanse of rock and pine trees.

And second, because Georgia Peaches being the badass she is — fended off an elk. Well, I can’t really say she fended it off. She more or less kept growling and barking to keep it off our campsite when it was pitch black out and we hardly noticed the thing less than 50 yards aways until we head Georgia’s persistent barking and saw the sliver of a large black outline just before it sauntered back into the woods. And then we praised Georgia like the royal princess she is and gave her treats and cuddled her and murmured sweet nothingness into her ears. Just kidding! But we couldn’t stop saying “Good girl!” and patting her stomach, once we jumped in the van to protect ourselves. And we thanked Mother Nature for having a big dog to protect us against unwanted guests. 
And so, we were looking for more hiking that included well marked trails because we aren’t as avid as we would like to think and a little more of a real campground feel. With recommendations from The Beard’s cousin, we set our lustrous eyes on Gila National Forest.
The 3 1/2 hour drive through winding mountainous roads with no guard rails and steep inclines and declining curves definitely kept us on our toes. Though we did pull off at the vista point to take in the Mountains of the Gila NF. 

I’ve never had a better view from a toilet but the wind and cold air definitely left you trying to pee as fast as possible. 
Still, 2 hours into the trip and we hit the Forest Ranger Station. We asked about the hiking and he said there was plenty. He also mentioned the hot springs but warned us that they have tested positive for containing a BRAIN EATING BACTERIA!!!! Might the locals add ‘It’s very rare.’ We don’t care how rare that shit is — we are NOT getting in there!!! And did you know, there is everything from Spina Bifida to meningitis in those things? Yeah I’ll forget the shower I was about to take in those hot springs — though I desperately need one. I’m starting to smell like a Big Mac at this point. 

Throughout the forest, there are four main campsites: Grapevine, another one I can’t remember, and Upper and Lower Scorpion. Grapevine is definitely the coolest site where you can drive your vehicle right up to your fire pit. However, there are no picnic tables and it is far from most of the hiking trails. Therefore, I would recommend Upper or Lower Scorpion for those two reasons. 
And in case you forget anything, or are like us — Doc Cambell’s Post has a little convenient store with everything you need and they also provide showers and coin laundry. These amenities are only there if you can get past the bitter old man working behind the counter. However, if you’re there long enough — he will warm up to you. And he hates ‘stupid idiots that don’t know what they are getting themselves into when they hike in high water country.’
We hiked through Little Bear Canyon, admiring the trees, rocks, caves, and waterfalls.

This is where we lavished ourselves with a fire, peanut butter jelly sandwiches, and some snacks before heading further into the canyon. 

From Little Bear Canyon, we started our trek through high water river crossing. Crossing, weaving, and wadding our way through DOZENS of river crossings with a 150 lb English Mastiff. TOTALLY NOT RECOMMENDED. Though we can’t be blamed too much because we had never been hiking through river crossings. And now we know we should do our homework before embarking on an adventure like the one that followed. 

At the time, we thought ‘oh wow! This is awesome! Let’s take dumbass pictures of each other.’ And so we did. 
After the 15th river crossing, I stopped counting. The water got deeper and the current got stronger. Then, we came to another crossing that became too deep to cross. This coming after The Beard fell into the current twice. And so we began our pathetic ascent up the canyon mountains, down the next canyon that fed into the river, up and over the next mountain until we were too exhausted to speak and clumsily faltered our numb feet as we walked up and down the mountains leading back to the Visitor’s Center. 
And there — we forgot our vegan diets and ate overpriced, shitty, dried out beef jerky and $5 chocolate bars, ringing our total in at $21.97. This is after The Beard let the forest rangers have it in the utmost respectful way and tell them that the river crossing trails are NOT suitable for hiking under the current conditions. From there, we walked the last mile to our van and slept for almost two days straight — only to wake up to have one meal. 
We deserved the rest and we needed it. Twenty some hours of rest can cure just about anything. Or it at least did the trick for us. 

When we finally revived our tattered bodies, we crept out of the van, blinded by the sun, ready to do it all over again. That is until — we met the most awesome raddest souls we have ever met. 
The Beard and I were sitting by our fire reading our books or cooking food, when this black Ford Transit pulled into the parking lot. Mind you — we were the only ones camping in the entire park for the first few days. So when someone pulls in, you stare and stalk like the peeping Tom from next door. 
Good for us that we did because we were so elated to find a young rambunctious couple climb out of the small van. And we knew from that moment that this was going to be an extraordinary day. You don’t know how rare it is to find another young couple on the road, let alone a van life couple. 

The Beard is always the conversationalist. So when he mentioned we should walk over and say hello and warn them about the high water crossings (which the park rangers didn’t), I was a bit hesitant. But we also made a promise to each other to put ourselves out there and share ourselves with others. Otherwise, we definitely aren’t going to make anymore friends than we already haven’t. 
With great surprise, we found talking to this couple quite easy and friendly. The Beard invited them over later but the old hags we are — when the sun went down and it turned cold, we cuddled up and went inside. 
Thankfully, Canadians are great, friendly people that stick around. Even when you’re rude and say come on over, though you go to sleep like you have a bed time or something. Speaking of, where’s my teddy bear? JK!
We woke to crisp air and a dew covered front window from the inside out. And naturally, like any morning we pop the hood, start the van, and brew our morning coffee. That’s when J and E come over and ask if we want pancakes. Um, YES we want pancakes with you guys! And we’re geeking out like we’ve never had friends before. Inside our heads we’re like ‘Okay. Play it cool. You’re cool. You got this. Now go make yourself some badass friends.’ And so we did. 
J and E were the kindest people we have met. They even asked if either one of us were allergic to anything and I was embarrassed to tell them I had Celiac until they asked. So like any good person would do, J made my pancakes first as we all sat there conversing about everything from flipping houses to money to philosophies of life and the values we have. 
The conversation just seemed to flow so easily that we didn’t have awkward pauses or try to get ourselves out of the conversation. We sat there for hours like we were long lost friends. J and E were the second couple we met but we definitely had a great connection with them. We even exchanged Instagrams and emails because they are international so it made it easier and we can follow along on each other’s travels. The Beard and I will definitely be visiting them whenever we travel up to Nova Scotia. Who knows? Maybe next summer!
Since we were nearly out of food, we both packed our van and headed for the mountain curves and steep grades that awaited us, not before we both hit up the Visitor’s Center for their FREE water!!! You don’t know how valuable free water is. 

Then, we decided before we hit the road — we needed to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings. And we’re sure glad we did. Otherwise, we would have been hitting ourselves over the head with our free water. 

This is when The Beard and I had a ‘great at the time idea’ to head for central Arizona — in Apache Sitgreaves NF. We spent one night just along the AR and NM border before heading the next day up into the mountains again. We took the scenic route along 191. An open mine is not so scenic, quite depressing actually — though the rest of the trip was out of a winter fairytale as we grasped the steering wheel for dear life. Did I mention that we’ve been doing A LOT of mountain driving? That being said, the campsite I had picked and ALL THE OTHER campsites were covered in snow. Not really what we’re going for when you’re living in a van. With nothing really close with lower elevation and warmer temperatures, we head back to New Mexico only to be followed by the snow. So here we sit, reading, eating snacks, making tea, getting on each other’s nerves from being in the van too much, and driving into town to warm up. We figured we’d better stop the fight against the weather because we know we will just lose. And we can’t really complain because — hell it only February! So we’ve given up finding warmer weather to hike in and we’ll wait it out at the bottom of some wicked ass mountains. 

So here’s to warmer weather and the start of our backpacking adventures. Any van lifers have funny stories about the weather while living in your van? 

With love,

The Beard + The Bohemian

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